of corn glimmered in the moonlight and boys’ voices could be heard as they
played hide and seek among them. How calm the night was, how stubbly the field! Iain
crouched behind one of the stooks listening, watching for deepening shadows, his face and
hands sweaty, his knees trembling with excitement. Then quite suddenly he heard the
voices fading away from him, as if the boys had tired of their game and gone home, leaving
him undetected. Their voices were like bells in the distance, each answering the other and
then falling silent. He was alone.
The moonlight shimmered among the stooks so that they looked like men, or women,
who had fallen asleep upright. The silence gathered around him, except that now and again
he could hear the bark of a dog and the noise of the sea. He touched the stubble with his
finger and felt it sharp and thorny as if it might draw blood. From where he was he could
see the lights of the houses but there was no human shape to be seen anywhere. The moon
made a white road across the distant sea.
He moved quietly about the field, amazed at the silence. No whisper of wind, no rustle
of creature—rat or mouse—moving about. He was a scout on advance patrol, he was a
pirate among his strawy treasure chests. If he thrust his hand into one, he might however
find not gold but some small nocturnal animal. Very faintly he heard the soft throaty call
of an owl. He was on a battlefield among the dead.
He began to count the stooks and made them twelve in all. It was a struggle for him for
he was continually distracted by shadows and also not at all good at arithmetic, being only
seven years old and more imaginative than mathematical. Twelve stooks set at a certain
glimmering distance from each other. Twelve treasure chests. Twelve men of straw. He
counted them again, and again he got twelve so he had been right the first time.
A cat slanted along in front of him, a mouse in its jaws, its eyes cold and green. The
mouse’s tail was dangling from its mouth like a shoelace. He put out his hand, but the cat
quickly ran away from him towards its busy house, carrying its prey. Its green eyes were
solid and beautiful like jewels.
He took a handkerchief from his pocket and began to dry his face. In the darkness he
couldn’t see the handkerchief clearly, it appeared as a vague ghostly shape, and though it
had red spots on it he couldn’t make them out. This was the quietest he had ever heard the
world before. Even the cat had made no noise when it passed him. During the daytime
there was always sound, but now even the dog had stopped barking. He could hear no sound
of water, not any noise at all. He put his hand out in front of him and could see it only as
a faint shape, as if it were separate from the rest of his body.
He looked up at the moon which was quite cold in the sky. He could see the dark spots
on it and it seemed to move backwards into the sky as he looked. What an extraordinary
calm was everywhere. It was as if he had been left in charge of the night, as if he was the
only person alive, as if he must take responsibility for the whole world. No sound of
footsteps could be heard from the road that lay between the wall and the houses.
The silence lasted so long that he was afraid to move. He formed his lips as if to speak
but he didn’t have the courage. It was as if the night didn’t want him to speak, were
forbidding him to do so, as if it were saying to him, This is my kingdom, you are not to do
anything I don’t wish you to do. He could no longer hear the noise of the sea, as if it too
had been commanded to be quiet. It was like a yellow shield in the distance, flat and made
of hammered gold.
Tall bundles of corn tied together.
For the first time in his life he heard the beating of his own heart. Pitter patter it went,
then it picked up power and became stronger, heavier. It was like a big clock in the middle
of his chest. Then as quickly as it had started, it settled down again and he held his breath.
The laden enchanted night, the strangeness of it. He would not have been surprised to see
the stooks beginning to dance, a strawy dance, one which they were too serious to do in the
daytime, when everyone was watching. He felt daring as well as frightened, that he should
be the only one to stay behind, that he should be the dweller among the stooks. How brave
he was and yet how unreal and ghostly he felt. It was as if the boys had left him and gone
to another country, pulling the roofs over their heads and putting off the switch beside the
This was the latest he had ever been out. He imagined himself staying there all night
and the boys appearing to him in the morning, their faces red with the sun, shouting and
screaming, like warriors. The sun was on their faces like war paint. They came out of their
boxes pushing the lids up, and suddenly there they were among the stubble with their red
knees and their red hands.
The stooks weren’t all at the same angle to the earth. As he listened in the quietness he
seemed to hear them talking in strawy voices, speaking in a sort of sharp, strawy language.
They were whispering to each other, deep and rough and sharp. Their language sounded
very odd, not at all liquid and running, but like the voice of stones, thorns. The field was
alive with their conversation. Perhaps they were discussing the scythe that had cut them
down, the boys that played hide and seek among them. They were busy and hissing as if
they had to speak as much as possible before the light strengthened around them.
Then they came closer together, and the boys seemed suddenly very far away. The stooks
were pressed against each other, composing a thorny spiky wall. He screamed suddenly and
stopped, for at the sound the stooks had resumed their original positions. They were like
pieces on a board. He began to count them again, his heart beating irregularly. Thirteen,
where there had been twelve before. Where had the thirteenth come from?
He couldn’t make out which was the alien one, and then counted them again and again.
Then he saw it, the thirteenth. It was moving towards him, it had sharp teeth, it had thorny
fingers. It was sighing inarticulately like an old woman, or an old man, its sigh was
despairing and deep. Far beyond on the road he could sense that the boys were all gathered
together, having got out of their boxes. They were sighing, everyone was sighing like the
wind. Straw was peeling away from them as if on an invisible gale. And finally they were
no longer there, but had returned to their boxes again and pulled the roofs over their heads.
He didn’t notice the lights of the house go out as he walked towards the thirteenth stook,
laid his head on its breast and fell asleep among the thorns.
Adapted from a short story by Iain Crichton Smith
Explain exactly what Iain has been doing at the start of the story.
In Paragraph 1, the writer suggests Iain’s feeling of excitement. By referring to
example from Paragraph 1, explain how word choice is used to achieve this.
Iain hears the voices of the other boys.
a simile which describes their voices.
What does it suggest about their voices?
“He was alone.” (Paragraph 1)
) Why is this an important moment in the story?
way the writer shows it is important.
Look at Paragraph 2.
What is missing from the scene around him?
“The moon made a white road across the distant sea.” (Paragraph 2)
) What technique is used in this expression?
) Explain fully what this expression suggests about the moonlight.
Look at Paragraphs 3 and 4.
Explain the use of dashes in “. . . —rat or mouse— . . .” (Paragraph 3)
Paragraph 3 shows Iain’s imagination working as he looks at the stooks of corn.
examples from Paragraph 3 of things Iain imagines the stooks to be.
reasons why Iain finds it difficult to count the stooks.
Use your own
as far as possible.
Iain’s attention is focussed on the stooks in Paragraph 4.
features of sentence structure used to convey his intense focus in
Look at Paragraphs 5 and 6.
Iain watches a cat go past in Paragraph 5.
Show how the writer uses the cat to add to the
of the night.
aspects of the night does the writer describe in Paragraph 6?
Look at Paragraphs 7 and 8.
Why does Iain feel he has “been left in charge of the night”?
Explain how word choice is used to indicate the power of the night.
Look at Paragraphs 9 to 11.
“The laden enchanted night . . .” (Paragraph 9)
How does the writer continue this idea in Paragraph 9?
Iain thinks about the other boys appearing the next day.
contrast between the moment of the boys’ appearance and the night
“. . . he seemed to hear them talking . . .” (Paragraph 11)
By referring to the passage, identify and explain
technique the writer uses to
describe the stooks’ language.
Look at Paragraph 12.
Show how the writer conveys the idea that Iain feels threatened by the stooks.
Why does the writer use a question at the end of Paragraph 12?
Look at Paragraphs 13 and 14.
Iain’s experience becomes more dream-like in Paragraph 13.
) Show how the writer’s description of the thirteenth stook adds to the feeling of
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